James Canady on the Injustice of Juvenile Life Sentences

Letter from James Canady on July 15, 2014

Interview #1

Please tell us something about yourself. Feel free to include whatever you feel comfortable or interested in sharing.

My name is James Canady and I been in prison for 7 years now. It is important to note that I am a juvenile lifer, and a young man trying to search for freedom. I cannot get too deep into my case because I’m still in the early stages of my legal fight, however I will admit that I made some bad decisions in life. Now that I am a little older, I’ve had time to think and grow. I just want you to know that the most important thing in my life is my family who I miss and love very much.

What’s one thing that you think people would be surprised to know about you (be it a particular experience, a part of your daily activities, an interest, a skill/talent, a lived reality, a personality trait, etc.)?

One of the things a lot of people I know from the streets would be surprised to know is how much I’ve changed. On the streets I was very stingy, but I am very giving with my personal resources. Now I love to share what I have.

What’s one thing that you think the public needs to know about either life sentences or the individuals who have been sentenced to life sentences?

The crime which I was convicted of came with a life sentence, but there have been others convicted of similar acts who got 20 years. Is there any guarantee that they will not kill again? My crime was committed when I was a juvenile, all I ask for is a second chance to live as a human being. Don’t we deserve a second chance, especially after we’re matured?

What do you think it will take to end the use of Life Without Parole sentences here in Pennsylvania?

Basically a lot of education, organizing, and work on behalf of us, our families, and all who love and support us in our efforts to be free.

What are some of the strategies, tactics or practices that you and people you know use to support one another and to challenge the conditions/realities that you experience?

I have not been very involved with an organization standpoint, but I speak with older men who are working with me to help me mature in this area of my development.

What do genuine justice and healing look like to you?

First of all, justice means forgiveness, so I would love to see fairness applied to all people. No matter if you have money or not. Healing is about having time to think, grow, and deal with your pain.

How does the vision that you’ve just described differ from the current criminal justice system?

The current criminal justice system is not just, and as a young man living in America, I would like to be treated fairly in every walk of life. How is it fair when one person with money can commit the same act which I was given a life sentence for, but they can get a 10 to 20, or walk away free? Is this justice? How can racism still be an issue in this system and still be referred to as a just system? So these are major differences which must be dealt with before the system becomes what it claims to be.

If you could have dinner with any person (living or dead) who would it be and why?  What would you most want to discuss, learn from, or tell them?

I would love to have dinner with Malcolm X because he was a strong and stand up person and he wasn’t afraid to stand up for himself or for his peoples. The most I want to discuss with him will be, what made you want to take a stand the way you did, when you knew they was killing people for less. What I learn from him is, how to take a stand for what I believe to be right. I will like to tell him thank you for everything that he done for the black community, because he gives them hope.

These final two questions are fill-in-the-blanks, but we hope that you will also take some time in your response to expand upon your answer and speak to why it is important to you. Feel free to treat these two questions either on a personal/small scale or to respond to them at the larger generational scale (i.e. as in something that you hope either begins or ends within our collective lifetimes).

I want ______________ to begin with me (or with my generation).

I want more supporting cast to begin with me (or my generation). Because if we had a lot more people that care then the prison system won’t be full.

I want ______________ to end with me (or with my generation).

I want life sentences to end with me (or with my generation). Because it’s not fair to let a human being die in a place like this.